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What Is the Science of Trees?

Trees are our beautiful, graceful companions. Whether you’re going on a long hike through a lush forest or just admiring one in your yard, it’s hard to imagine our planet without them. Even though we love and appreciate them, not all of us are aware of the incredible science of trees. Busy mammals that we are, it’s easy to breeze right by without learning to move at their pace. If you take a moment and really observe your trees, you might just notice some of the astounding biological processes they use every day.

While Mr. Tree’s services are dedicated to caring for and maintaining your trees, our arborists are also proud to boast a deep pool of knowledge about what makes them tick. When you decide to learn a bit more about the science of trees, you might find that you appreciate them even more.

Trees Can Communicate with Each Other

From a human perspective, it’s easy to forget that trees are living creatures. They don’t walk or talk like humans, so it’s hard to imagine them having a complex sense of self. In reality, the modern science of trees points to them having a kind of intelligence all their own. Recent studies seem to indicate that trees can—and frequently do—communicate with each other. By utilizing pheromones and networks of fungi on the forest floor, trees are able to send messages and signals to other trees in a kind of organic internet.

This allows one tree to help other trees survive, passing along warnings of invasive insects or disease so that its neighbors can adjust their behavior accordingly. It’s also theorized that older trees are able to pass along survival strategies to saplings. They communicate their genetic memories of how to live through droughts and other environmental hardships. While they may not be having an outright conversation with each other, we’re understanding more and more every day how social trees really are.

What Looks Like a Single Tree May Actually Be a Part of a Larger Organism

The science of trees doesn’t just tell us that they’re capable of communicating. On top of passing messages through the forest, trees have the capability of forming a sort of colony. 

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These colonies, better referred to as superorganisms, develop when individual trees’ roots grow and graft together. Above ground, each trunk might appear to be its own individual organism. Underground, however, a wide network of roots allows the sharing of water and nutrients between each other.

Scientists have even observed that younger trees, which otherwise might die in the shade of larger parent trees, are instead nourished by them. In a particularly odd study in New Zealand, a stump appears to have been kept alive as part of a superorganism. The stump itself lacks any greenery and should by all rights be dead, but upon closer observation, scientists noticed sap flowing within it. The study determined the stump’s neighbors share roots with it and actively giving it the resources it needs to survive. It’s unclear if the stump is being kept alive because its roots add value to the superorganism or because it was simply part of the network before becoming a stump. Either way, it’s still an incredible example of trees forming a community.

Trees Can Actively Impact the Ecosystem Around Them

A tree might appear to be a passive participant in the environment around it, but that’s far from the truth. Much like how trees communicate and interact with each other, they also benefit and even communicate with creatures outside of the plant kingdom. A single tree can drastically increase the biodiversity in the area, giving other animals and beneficial insects a place to thrive.

There has even been a study to suggest that trees might intentionally reach out to other creatures when under threat. For example, trees combating an infestation of parasitic caterpillars appear to have released pheromones that attracted said caterpillar’s natural predators. It may not be a dramatic display, but it’s certainly a fascinating level of awareness and reactivity.

There Are More Than 50,000 Species of Trees in the World

Forestry and tree care are major industries and pillars of our global ecosystem. Still, the scientific community didn’t have a grasp on the sheer biodiversity of species. It wasn’t until as recently as 2017 that there was finally a push to catalog every tree in the world. This global census spanned every corner of the world, reaching out to various institutes with relevant botanical information. At the end of the census, it was determined that there are 60,065 known species of trees!

One of the more intriguing statistics points to the regional effects on tree biodiversity. More than half of the trees cataloged in the study are single-country endemics. This means they’re not found growing anywhere outside of the individual countries they were discovered in. Countries with large natural forests, such as Brazil, and island nations where trees can evolve in isolation, like Madagascar, are shown to have the largest number of single-country endemics.

Being Around Trees Makes People Happier—And It’s Proven!

Sure, we all know anecdotally that trees are good for people. Who hasn’t enjoyed an afternoon stroll through a park or laid out with their favorite book under a tree? Trees provide a lovely bit of calm that we can all stand to benefit from in our hectic modern lives. However, did you know that the science of trees backs up those good feelings? It all starts with phytoncides, a kind of pheromone that trees produce.

Phytoncides produce measurable health benefits in humans. They can lower anxiety and blood pressure and boost the production of white blood cells. Along with those health benefits, studies have shown that planting trees can actually help reduce crime in urban areas. So if you feel like you could use a revitalizing walk through the woods, or if you’d like to help keep your home secure, feel free to get in touch. We’re more than happy to help you nurture your trees, and we’ve got the science to back up our skills.